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When Language Hurts Scientists And Their Employers

Sajal Das started out well. A bright boy from Calcutta, he finished his undergraduate degree in India, earned a Ph.D. studying high-temperature polymers at North Carolina State University, and soon found a good R&D job at Morristown, N.J. -based Allied-Signal Corp. But then he stalled. While his United States-born colleagues went scampering up the corporate-scientific ladder, Das has stayed put, although, in his opinion, his science is every bit as good as anyone’s. The trouble, from wh

Phil Garber
Sajal Das started out well. A bright boy from Calcutta, he finished his undergraduate degree in India, earned a Ph.D. studying high-temperature polymers at North Carolina State University, and soon found a good R&D job at Morristown, N.J. -based Allied-Signal Corp.

But then he stalled. While his United States-born colleagues went scampering up the corporate-scientific ladder, Das has stayed put, although, in his opinion, his science is every bit as good as anyone’s. The trouble, from what he has been able to gather, is his English: Although Das is easy to understand in conversation—he has been speaking English since he was a young boy—he has been told that his written reports sound awkward and contain grammatical mistakes.

Das is one of a growing number of foreign-born scientists and engineers who are recruited by U.S. companies—only to slam into the language barrier of corporate English. It bruises them, and as their...

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